Last year when I was in Krakow, Poland, and sketching with the local Urban Sketcher group, I met Roman Szmal who was developing his own line of watercolour paints. He had been working with local artist Agata Kwiatkowska and gave me the second set he had ever made up. After exchanging business cards he headed off and we continued sketching. A little while later I had a call from him “I’ve been looking at your site and would like to make up my versions of your palette and give to you tomorrow.” Wow! that was very special.
Around December this year the paints were released under the name of Aquarius. You might have seen Jane Blundell’s video of opening the pans. They are beautifully wrapped with colour wrappings of hand painted swatches on watercolour paper. Wow!
A few days ago, a very belated Xmas gift arrived from Roman Szmal (slow Polish postal service?) It was a beautiful timber box containing 36 of the Aquarius range created for a watercolour event in Poland last year.
And so I have been playing a little more with them. How can anyone resist a yummy box of paints like this? It’s so gorgeous!
I haven’t had time to do what I consider ‘serious testing’ but so far I have been very impressed.
And I can confirm that these pans are lovely to work with – soft and creamy and it’s really easy to pick up paint. Some of the pans are very soft, so I would like to use them inside my everyday palette for a while before I can tell if they are ‘too soft’ and messy.
The paints are nearly 100% handmade and high quality – “I’m buying pigments only from well respected suppliers.” According to the colour chart the full range is lightfast achieving 7 to 8 in Blue Wool Scale.
I love the idea behind the pans being wrapped in watercolour paper with original paint on it. You can see exactly what the paint is like so there is no need to do a colour chart – though some of us love doing them, don’t we? All the pans I have received to date have been prototypes without the watercolour wrapping so I’ve not had the pleasure of handling the final product… yet!
Aquarius uses some unusual pigments and mixes. I don’t have the full range, but you can see it here in Jane Blundell’s amazing article with all samples of them all. The full Aquarius collection of 140 colours includes 34 earth tones with natural pigments and I’ve been poring over the colour chart looking at all these interesting options.
Two colours that I don’t have:
401 – Przybysz’s Grey
Perfect for shadows (a little like Daniel Smith Moonglow)
344 – Ocean Blue
A turquoise/blue paint with white/yellow shade on the edge, perfect for painting waves with foam on the top of water.
You can see these paints in Jane’s brushouts
But the rest I have been playing with a little:
336 – Shadow Violet
A mixture of three pigments: Cobalt Green PG50, Ultramarine Blue PB29, Quinacridone Violet PV19. It has very similar properties to Przybysz’s Grey but a bit brighter with a subtle violet hue. I like the look of Shadow Violet a lot and the separation of pigments is impressive – lots of green appearing as the washes dry.
334 – Mineral Violet
Ultramarine PB29 and red-rose Quinacridone Violet PV19 producing heavy granulation and separation. Gorgeous colour and if I had a purple in my palette this would be it!
239 – Caput Mortuum
A natural dark-brown-red with violet undertone. As this is a natural mineral, this paint granulates beautifully and separates into different colours (specks of brown, red etc.) It’s another amazing colour and I’m wondering when I will use it.
131 – Van Dyke Brown
Most VBD’s contain black (eg WN ) but like the DS version this is just earth brown pigment. It’s a gorgeous cool dark brown (one I can’t live without) and I think the Aquarius version granulates a little more than the DS.
346 – Aquarius Green
A beautiful mixed green (a little like DS Undersea Green) but darker. Lots of wonderful separation.
The most exciting discovery I have made in my preliminary play mode is mixing French Ultramarine with Italian Burnt Sienna. It separates beautifully with a gorgeous golden glow. This is exactly what I want from a grey and it’s why I mix up my crazy Steel’s Grey.
Wow, wow, wow! I’m so in love with this combination! (Seriously, this is massive excitement level for me.)
In summary, I’m very impressed with the samples which I have received of the Aquarius range. I haven’t done extensive tests, but I am itching to mix some more colours and see how they perform in my normal sketching.
I’ve noticed a few things such as:
– some interesting pre-mixed olive greens,
– a version of Monte Amiata Natural Sienna,
– no Potters Pink (but there is Ultramarine Pink which might be an alternative),
– a Cobalt Blue which is semi-opaque rather than the usual transparent
– an interesting earth orange/red called Mummy Transparent Red using PR 102 (as opposed to the usual PR101).
Hmm, this range is a serious distraction for me at the moment!
I think it’s really exciting to meet someone who is creating a quality handmade product and I’m looking forward to seeing how these paints are received as they become more available. And just for the record, I have been given these paints to test independently and I’m not an affiliate for them. I love exploring different brands and then handpick the paints which suit me best. I expect that some Aquarius paints will make it into my everyday palette down the track. But right at the moment I don’t have the time to do the required testing.
At the moment these paints (full pans only) are available in a few places in Europe and are very affordable. The most accessible is the Artemiranda site which ships worldwide and Roman Szmal Art has a Facebook page here.
I will definitely keep you posted with more news and thoughts about this new range of watercolour.